Saddam has weapons of mass destruction—thanks to the U.S.

In his book, Spoils of War: The Human Cost of America’s Arms Trade, John Tirman writes, “The United States now exports more weapons than all other countries combined.” He is speaking of conventional weapons—Stinger missiles, F-16s, 50-caliber machine guns, land mine dispensing pods, Black Hawk helicopters—the modern weapons on which dictators and monarchies depend.

Weapons of mass destruction are not mentioned in Tirman’s book, but the impending war on Iraq is still full of irony: The world’s leading weapons merchant is preparing all-out war to stop arms proliferation in a country to which it shipped materials of mass destruction for more than 10 years.

U.S. officials now admit (with a certain reluctance) that Saddam Hussein acquired lethal chemicals, germs and biological seed stocks—materials of mass destruction—from U.S. companies under State Department permits throughout the 1980s. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself was then part of the military alliance with Saddam.

At a committee hearing Jan. 29, quoting passages from the Washington Post, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) described U.S. shipments of anthrax and strains of bubonic plague to the Iraqi regime. She expressed shock and outrage at the immorality and folly of U.S. arms trade policy.

From accounts in the London Independent and Berlin’s Tageszeitung, in reports in the Washington Post and on the back pages of the New York Times, plus extensive coverage on Democracy Now radio, the story of U.S. complicity with Saddam’s military machine begins to emerge. In violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 (which outlaws chemical warfare), the Reagan-Bush administration authorized the sale of poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses to the militarists in Iraq. In 1982, while Saddam Hussein constructed his machinery of war, Reagan and Bush removed Iraq from the State Department list of terrorist states.

According to declassified documents, as mentioned in the Washington Post Weekly Edition, Iraq was already using chemical weapons on an “almost daily basis” when Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein in 1983, consolidating the U.S.-Iraq military alliance.

Subsequently, the Pentagon supplied logistical and military support, U.S. banks provided billions of dollars in credits, and the C.I.A., using a Chilean conduit, increased Saddam’s supply of cluster bombs.

As late as 1989 and 1990, according to a report from U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), U.S. companies helped Iraq build a chemical-weapons factory and then shipped Hussein a West Nile virus, hydrogen cyanide precursors and parts for a new nuclear plant.

The infamous massacre at Halabja—the gassing of the Kurds—took place in March 1988. On Sept. 19, sixth months later (as Judith Miller reports in her book, Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War), U.S. companies sent 11 strains of germs and four types of anthrax to Iraq, including a microbe strain, called 11966, developed for germ warfare at Fort Detrick in the 1950s.

It is time to break the silence, to pose the questions that can awaken our sleeping souls. Are U.S. companies sending their deadly material to other dictators? Will U.S. weapons of mass destruction be turned against U.S. troops and American personnel? Why do we even permit the sale of death for profit? A congressional hearing is long overdue.

U.S. officials, to be sure, take a dismissive attitude toward revelations about complicity in Saddam’s military reign of terror in the ’80s. They tell us that, since Saddam was a strategic ally in the ’80s, the arms merchants did nothing wrong. The entire U.S. arms trade is based on a heinous premise: that atrocities and war crimes in the Third World are acceptable so long as they fit within U.S. global strategy and aims. Saddam’s crimes were invisible in the ’80s. The same crimes became grist for front-page demonization of Saddam in the ’90s, after—and only after—Saddam threatened Western access to oil.

George Orwell’s essay on empire and nationalism applies directly to the mendacity of the Bush administration.

“Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them,” he wrote. “There is almost no kind of outrage—torture, imprisonment without trial, assassination, the bombing of civilians—which does not change its moral color when it is committed by ‘our’ side. … The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”The Reno Anti-War Coalition will host anti-war events Feb. 13-21. Events will include:

• Genocide by Sanctions, a movie about existent economic sanctions against Iraq, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 13 at the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada office, 1101 Riverside Drive.

• Feb. 15: Anti-War demonstration at the Capitol Building in Sacramento, Calif. The Reno Anti-War Coalition is arranging buses to take northern Nevadans to the demonstration and back. Call Jill Ransom, 786-5483 or 762-3560. Cost is $20.

• Feb. 16: Seminar on techniques of peaceful, nonviolent resistance, from noon-5 p.m. at the Getchell Library on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus. Free.

• Feb. 20: Weekly Reno Anti-War Coalition meeting, 6:30 p.m. at the PLAN office, 1101 Riverside Drive. The weekly meetings are open to all.

• Feb. 20: A protest at the military recruiters’ office in Sparks. Meet at 3:30 p.m. at the Burgess Skate Park at the corner of Pyramid Way and Greenbrae in Sparks.